Saturday, 1 September 2012

Great Moments in Government Overreach: DOJ Accuses Sacramento Library of Discrimination

The Sacramento Public Library Authority partnered with Barnes and Noble on a trial basis to provide a NOOK e-book reader at each of its 28 libraries, pre-loaded with 20 books in a variety of genres.  Sure seems like a sensible,  innovative, market-based, consumer-friendly option now that so many people do their reading using Kindles, NOOKs, and iPads instead of print copies.  

So what's the problem? According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the pilot e-reader program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it discriminates against blind patrons of the library, because NOOK e-readers are "inaccessible" to the blind.  The library reached a settlement that requires it to purchase iPod touch and iPad devices, which read e-books aloud with a computerized voice.  DOJ has also directed the library not to buy any additional e-readers that exclude blind and it requires the library to train its staff on ADA compliance.

Read the whole story here (CNS News) or here (Sacramento Bee).  Here's the full text of the settlement and the DOJ press release.

Question: Isn't the Sacramento Public Library's entire collection of books, magazines, and newspapers in hard copy also"inaccessible" to its blind patrons?  

Update: Census data on Sacramento indicate that a language other than English is spoken in almost 37% of the city's homes, so couldn't you make a case that the books in English at the city's libraries be "inaccessible" to many of the local residents?  If so, then shouldn't the libraries be required to have each book available in several languages?  

Update: The DOJ's enforcement of equal treatment and non-discriminatory practices seems to be somewhat selective. In the case above, it was considered illegal to give sighted people special treatment, preferences or access to resources at public libraries that were not available to blind people, and the legal standard applied was "equal treatment under the law for all at a publicly funded library."  But the DOJ doesn't seem equally concerned about special preferences at publicly-funded universities, where it allows a different legal standard of "unequal treatment" and "special preferences" based on race?       

HT: Curtis Purington


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